Gaza takes receipt of €13m in suitcases

Israel backs Qatar’s initial payment as part of plan to end border violence

A Palestinian Hamas-hired employee displays  dollar notes after receiving her salary, in the southern Gaza Strip on  November 9th, 2018. Photograph: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A Palestinian Hamas-hired employee displays dollar notes after receiving her salary, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 9th, 2018. Photograph: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

 

More than €13 million, provided by Qatar, was paid to Gaza civil servants on Friday after being transferred via the Israeli border crossing in three suitcases stuffed with notes.

The money from Qatar, transferred with Israel’s blessing, was the first instalment of a total of almost €80 million that will be transferred over the next six months. The transfer marks a key piece in a complicated jigsaw designed to ensure an end to the border violence that has threatened on more than one occasion in recent months to plunge Israel and Hamas into another war.

After months of shuttle diplomacy, led by Egyptian intelligence and the United Nations special Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, the sides now appear close to agreeing to Egypt’s three-stage truce deal.

The first stage consists of a stable ceasefire and Hamas has already taken steps to reduce the weekly protests along the border fence.

In the second phase, large sums of international donor money and funds from Qatar will be transferred to Gaza to rehabilitate the impoverished coastal enclave and relieve the dire humanitarian crisis.

In the third stage, Ramallah’s Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by president Mahmoud Abbas, will gradually reassert its control over Gaza.

However, the situation remains tense and Israeli security officials have warned that any serious violation resulting in the resumption of militant rocket fire from Gaza will be met with a firm Israeli response.

Soldiers’ remains

One major hurdle to the implementation of a lasting truce is Israel’s insistence that between the first and second stage, Hamas must return the remains of two soldiers killed during the 2016 Gaza war along with two mentally challenged Israeli civilians who crossed into Gaza and are believed to be in Hamas captivity. Without this, Israel warns, the next two stages will not happen.

Despite growing optimism that a deal is close, significant opposition to the emerging arrangement remains within Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel’s hardline defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has made clear his adamant opposition to any kind of truce arrangement with Hamas.

“This is a capitulation to terrorism, and in effect Israel is buying short-term calm with money, while severely undermining long-term security,” he said.

Education minister Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right Jewish Home, described the cash transferred to Gaza as “protection money”.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni from the Zionist Union criticised prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu for allowing suitcases of cash to be transferred to a terror group which has sworn to destroy Israel.

Despite reportedly agreeing to the Egyptian framework, Mr Abbas warned that a truce between Hamas and Israel would consolidate the split between the West Bank and Gaza, and might pave the way for the establishment of a separate Palestinian state.

Palestinian protesters pelted the convoy of Qatar’s ambassador to the Palestinians, Mohammed al-Emadi, with stones on Friday as he came to observe the border protests and some activists have even accused Gaza’s Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar of treason.